HC upholds Tanaji Vanve’s election as LoP

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 01 Sep 2017 10:07:23


Staff Reporter,

Municipal Party is not subservient to original political party

HC finds no fault with decision of Divisional Commissioner, Mayor

Majority of Congress corporators with Vanve

Major jolt to Muttemwar-Thakre group

Factional feud within Congress likely to take ugly turn

Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court on Thursday dismissed a petition filed by Sanjay Mahakalkar challenging appointment of Tanaji Vanve as Congress group leader and subsequently as Leader of the Opposition in Nagpur Municipal Corporation. Support of majority, absence of any constitution finalised by Municipal Party and extreme diligence shown by Divisional Commissioner in deciding the issue of leadership, demolished the case of Mahakalkar and helped Vanve in trouncing his intra-party rival hands down.
A division bench consisting of Justice Bhushan Dharmadhikari and Justice Rohit Deo while pronouncing the much awaited verdict also held that meeting convened by a group of 16 Congress corporators appointing Vanve in place of Mahakalkar, as Group leader subsequent recognition by the Divisional Commissioner after ascertaining signature of each of the 16 corporators and decision of Mayor to recognise Vanve as Leader of Opposition, was valid, legal and in consonance with Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act and rules framed thereunder.

Interestingly, the High Court held that writ of original political party runs upto formation of Municipal Party and thereafter, the Municipal Party consisting of elected representative becomes a separate entity and is not subservient to original party.

The High Court also patted back of Divisional Commissioner for displaying due diligence in deciding the controversy by granting opportunity to each side including the Congress party and its two factions, conducted physical verification and signature verification and acting strictly in accordance with law. The mistake committed by Congress party in not finalising its constitution for Municipal Party proved to be very fatal to its case and the High Court noted that in absence of any procedure prescribed under the constitution, the meeting convened by Vanve faction can not be held illegal and its decision endorsed by a majority of 29 corporators has to be respected.

“Legislature has intended to strengthen the elected group of Corporators at institutional level and hence, protect people’s voice itself within such institution i.e. local body and administration in a Municipal Corporation,” the High Court noted while rejecting the argument made by MPCC that original political party (Congress in this case) has been given a upper hand or a major role while municipal party is
subservient to it.

“Unless and until there is some defiance or violation or a wrong at the level of or within the municipal party and it has impact on some municipal matter or business of a municipal corporation, provisions for defection in 1986 Act or 1987 Rules cannot operate,” the High Court noted while refusing to treat this intra-party difference of opinion about leadership as sort of coup worth of attracting defection law.

The High Court gave a patient and marathon hearing to all the parties including intervenors- Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC), City Congress Committee supporting petitioner Sanjay Mahakalkar who was ousted by a
group of Congress corporators led by veteran Tanaji Vanve and had reserved the verdict last month. All the sides had roped in legal eagles to argue the matter and as expected this judgement will have a far reaching impact on intra-party democracy, relationship between party leadership and elected representatives and interpretation of MMC Act.

The petition filed by Sanjay Mahakalkar was directed against the Divisional Commissioner’s order, approving the name of Vanve in place of Mahakalkar on the strength of a letter submitted to him in writing claiming support of 17 out of 29 Congress members. Subsequently, Mahakalkar also challenged the order by Mayor naming Vanve as Leader of Opposition.

On March 4, all the elected 29 corporator of Congress including Tanaji Vanve signed a letter proposing Mahakalkar as their leader and consequently the Divisional Commissioner had accorded recognition to the petitioner as Leader of the Congress party in the civic body for two and half years. According to petitioner, Vanve only created farce of holding meeting on May 16. Vanve was appointed as Congress group leader after 17 corporators belonging to Satish Chaturvedi- Nitin Raut-Anees Ahmed group joined hand and revolted against Mahakalkar. After ascertaining the facts and physically verifying their support and signature, the Divisional Commissioner had granted recognition to Tanaji Vanve, a very old Chaturvedi loyalist as Congress group leader.

Supporting his decision to recognise Tanaji Vanve as group leader of Congress Party in Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC), the Divisional Commissioner in his affidavit before High Court had asserted that under Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act and Maharashtra Local Authority Members Disqualification Act and Disqualification Rules 1987, the Divisional Commissioner has powers to decide the issue regarding change of leader. Elected members have right to resolve and elect their group leader and have right to claim change of leader, the affidavit stated while refuting the allegation that he was not legally empowered to accept the application moved by 17 Congress corporators seeking change of leadership.

When the petitioner-Sanjay Mahakalkar and City Congress President Vikas Thakre alleged that signatures were forged, the Divisional Commissioner immediately asked the Municipal Secretary to verify signatures of the corporators and out of 17, as many as 16 members confirmed their signatures and stood by the demand to change Mahakalkar. Signature of only one corporator Ramesh Punekar could not be verified as he failed to appear. Since majority of Congress corporators were with Vanve, he was declared Group leader, the affidavit stated while seeking dismissal of the petition.

Tanaji Vanve’s counsel strongly countered the arguments advanced by City Congress and Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) about their right to appoint group leader in Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) by stating that party whip is applicable on all corporators inside the house, but selection of party leader by corporators is outside disciplinary jurisdiction of the party and does not attract provisions of disqualification, since no whip was issued or could have been issued for a meeting held outside the house and for action which squarely falls beyond disqualification norms. Besides, Mahakalkar had no legal right to continue on the post without adequate numbers. Leader without adequate support from corporators can not question the post as a matter of right and can not gag other corporators from expressing their free will.

Congress had argued that its decision to appoint Sanjay Mahakalkar as group leader was legal and logical and any change without permission or consent of the party was bad in law while strongly supporting original choice and slamming subsequent decision to change Congress group leader by the respondents.

Senior Counsel S.K. Mishra and Adv Pushkar Ghare appeared for the petitioner. Senior Counsel Subodh Dharmadhikari and Adv Shantanu Khedkar represented MPCC and City Congress. Senior Advocate Sunil Manohar and Adv Akshay Naik represented Vanve while Senior Advocate Anand Jaiswal and Adv M S Sharma held the brief for corporators supporting Vanve. AGP A R Kulkarni (State), Adv Jemini Kasat (NMC and Mayor) represented respondent authorities.